Bennet Fought to Include New Funding in the Bill To Tackle Drought in the Colorado River Basin and Across the American West
Washington, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources, worked with U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) to secure $4 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to address drought in the American West.
Drought provisions in the IRA will fund water conservation, habitat restoration, and mitigation efforts by distributing $4 billion to states, public water facilities, and water districts, including $12.5 million to mitigate the effect of drought on tribes.
Here’s what they’re saying about the drought mitigation funding Bennet secured in the IRA:
Colorado Public Radio: Michael Bennet plays key role in adding $4 billion to fight drought in the West
As Senate Democrats were waiting to see if moderate Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema would sign onto the climate, health and tax bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, Colorado’s Michael Bennet worked behind the scenes to get a change included, too.
When the Inflation Reduction bill came out and Bennet saw that it did not include drought funding, Bennet fought for it and led other Western senators on doing the same, according to two sources close to the negotiations but who were not authorized to speak publicly on the discussions.
The climate change and health care bill nearing final approval in Congress includes $4 billion to rent, buy or save water that could go a long way to help restore the beleaguered Colorado River Basin amid a historic megadrought, Senate supporters and water advocates say.
“The West has not been this dry in 1,200 years, the Colorado River is in crisis as a result, and we don’t have a plan and we need to develop one,” Bennet said in an interview after the weekend’s round of amendments and Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. “I believe very strongly that the federal government has to be there with resources to backstop an agreement.”
While $4 billion alone is not enough to buy all the water needed for a 4 million acre-foot annual restoration of Colorado River flows, Bennet said Western supporters of the legislation can add in many other pieces as connected climate policy.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021 included $5 billion to restore forest health across the country, which improves runoff and water quality. Another $5 billion was included for mitigating fire risk, and $20 billion more for water conservation on agricultural land, Bennet said.
When the U.S. Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act on Sunday, Western legislators breathed a sigh of relief after feeling victorious in an effort to see funding included for the Bureau of Reclamation to combat drought in the Colorado River Basin.
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., announced the agreement, which could see billions go toward “voluntary system conservation projects that achieve verifiable reductions in use of or demand for water supplies or provide environmental benefits in the Lower Basin or Upper Basin of the Colorado River,” over the next few years, according to the bill text.
As a prolonged drought takes its toll on the Colorado River, states that make up the Colorado River Basin will receive $4 billion for drought mitigation efforts.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, along with Sens. Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto, announced $4 billion in spending has been added to the Inflation Reduction Act. The $4 billion is new funding in addition to the $369 billion for addressing the climate crisis that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act and was announced Friday by the senators.
“For me, it was really important that the language be written so that the $4 billion could be used to compensate all water users for voluntary multiyear reductions in real water use, and I didn’t want this just to be a paper shuffle,” Bennet told The Durango Herald. “I wanted there to be, at the end, a real reduction in water use.”
“In the end, I think the job of the federal government here is not to dictate what the outcome should be on the Colorado River,” Bennet said. “It’s for the states to come to an agreement and hopefully reach a consensus and then the federal government in the years ahead backstop and consensus with further funding.”
In his interview with the Herald after the funding was announced, he said getting the funding is an “important down payment” to help the Colorado River survive.
“I wouldn’t have voted for (the Inflation Reduction Act) if it harmed the Upper Basin or Colorado,” he said. “Colorado and the entire American West is facing a severe 22-year-long drought driven by climate change. The West has not been this dry in 1,200 years and the Colorado River is in crisis.”
Drought and wildfire go hand and hand, with droughts creating the ideal conditions for wildfire, with a lack of rain drying out vegetation and trees. Given the relationship between extreme drought and wildfires, Bennet said he’ll continue to come back and fight for more forestry money, and emphasized what he said was an “unprecedented amount” of funding this provides for Coloradans facing these issues.
“I do think it was jarring last year when the smoke from California reached the East Coast and people in New York and Washington, D.C., started to smell that smoke,” he said. “And I think, tragically, the picture of families burned out of their houses as we were in Colorado … and seeing that on the nightly news is also catching people’s attention, and we just are going to have to keep pushing.”
Ark Valley Voice: A Major Investment In Combating Drought On The Colorado River
This past Sunday in overtime hours ahead of adjourning for their August recess, the U.S. Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). It invests $370 billion into clean energy and curbing climate change, the largest U.S. investment ever in U.S. history.
The provisions included in the bill could cut carbon emissions by 40 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. This is still short of the 50 percent President Joe Biden had originally aimed for, but it goes a long way toward meeting a goal that has been seen as out-of-reach for the past year.
States that divide the flow of the Colorado River. Image courtesy of Mission 20212 Clean Water.
Here in the west, legislators finally took a deep breath and exhaled, as the bill includes major climate funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to address the impacts of drought on the Colorado River Basin.
“The Colorado River Basin is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, it provides the drinking water for 40 million people across seven states and 30 tribes, it irrigates five million acres of agricultural land, it underpins the West’s $26 billion outdoor recreation economy, and it is running out of water,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet during a June 7 hearing for the Senate’s Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources subcommittee.
That reality has now received official acknowledgment. Three U.S. Senators, Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Mark Kelly, (D-Ariz.), announced the agreement that could mean billions of dollars allocated toward “voluntary” system conservation projects.
Farm Progress: Inflation Reduction Act passes with ag climate investments
It also includes $5 billion to protect communities from wildfires while combating the climate crisis and through climate-smart forestry. On Friday, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., joined with Sinema in securing $4 billion to address drought in the West and in the Colorado River Basin. An agreement was reached to include $4 billion in funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to combat drought in the Western U.S.
“The Western United States is experiencing an unprecedented drought, and it is essential that we have the resources we need to support our states’ efforts to combat climate change, conserve water resources, and protect the Colorado River Basin,” Bennet says.